District 181 board erred in holding closed session

Former Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Elementary District 181 Board member Yvonne Mayer speaks during a recent meeting. | File photo
Former Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Elementary District 181 Board member Yvonne Mayer speaks during a recent meeting. | File photo

The Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Elementary District 181 Board violated the Open Meetings Act Oct. 17 by holding a closed session discussion not authorized by any exception to the general requirement that public bodies openly conduct business, the Attorney General’s Office ruled.

The decision by the public access counselor resulted from a request for review filed Dec. 5 by former board member Yvonne Mayer, who alleged the board improperly discussed her request for a report on her claim she was assaulted during an April 22, 2013, closed session by a fellow board member. Mayer requested the fellow board member be removed from the district’s Finance Committee following the alleged incident.

“In my opinion, it’s all about being fully transparent and pursuing appropriate open government standards,” said Mayer, who served on the board from May 2009 through April 2013.

The board was directed to release the portions of the closed session minutes and closed session verbatim recording that reflect the board’s discussion of Mayer’s request and its response.

Board President Marty Turek said he was holding off on making any comments, as the public access counselor’s opinion was still being reviewed.

The board discussed Mayer’s request in closed session under the pretext it was an exception to the Open Meetings Act, which permits closed session discussion concerning employment of a specific employee.

However, Mayer said it did not meet the exemption requirement. The public access counselor sent a copy of Mayer’s request for review to the District 181 Board Dec. 16, seeking a response to her allegations along with seeking copies of the agenda from the Oct. 17 meeting, open and closed session minutes, and a closed session verbatim recording.

The board responded it had acted in good faith.

“It was the good faith opinion of the board that discussing alleged misconduct and potential discipline of a former board member was confidential and would fall under the discipline of personnel exception, which permits public bodies to enter into closed session to discuss discipline of specific employees of the public body,” a board statement read.

The public access counselor determined the board’s discussion centered on Mayer’s request for the report and a prior closed session verbatim recording rather than the disciplinary matters related to specific employees.

“While the board’s discussion briefly touched on discipline in connection with the report, the discussion pertained to former board members, not employees,” the public access counselor wrote. “It is clear from the recording that the discussion focused on determining how to address Ms. Mayer’s requests” and did not center on “the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of a specific employee or legal counsel.”

Because of that, the public access counselor concluded the board improperly discussed Mayer’s requests in closed session.

The board also argued discussion about whether to produce documentation of an incident that happened during a closed session and an audiotape of the closed session, or to hold a hearing, should be discussed in closed session.

The opinion of the public access counselor was there is no exemption for holding a closed session solely to discuss the events of a prior closed session or whether to produce documentation, other than minutes, related to that closed session,

The public access counselor also determined the board did not take final action on Mayer’s request in closed session.

Based on the findings, the board was directed to release the portions of the closed session minutes and closed session verbatim recording that reflect the board’s discussion.

Mayer said she believes the board should now put the verbatim recording on its Web site along with the podcasts of all open sessions that are available for public hearing.

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